Alexandria, VA – Charles Studholme has spent most of his life looking at birds. In all, the 67-year-old owner of One Good Tern at 1710 Fern St. has seen 582 bird species, and is closing shop as soon as almost everything is sold at a discount. That includes world-class birding optics like the Zeiss Victory binoculars, which once focused properly make you feel like you’re sitting right there on a branch with a beautiful rose-breasted grosbeak.
“The shop has pretty much been my identity. I got to run things the way I like and made it warm and friendly,” Studholme told The Zebra. “Birds are fascinating because they are such a vibrant expression of life.”
Studholme is experiencing end-stage kidney failure, and plans on doing a lot of bird watching in his spare time. In fact, for being such a strong seller, Zeiss gave him a pair of Victory binoculars.
“That’s one of the top two best binoculars in the world,” he said. “I’m usually pretty busy in here, and for 19 years I really haven’t had a lot of days off. You know, seven days a week before the sun came out and leaving after the sun goes down a lot of the time. Once I retire, I’ll be able to do a bit more birding from my rocking chair.”
The shop, which looks like a birdhouse and has been open in Alexandria since 1986, carries everything a birder could want, from field optic lenses and spotting scopes to guidebooks, bird seed, birding memorabilia, and more. Incidentally, the bird seed is the only merchandise that’s not on sale.
Head In The Clouds
Studholme was born and raised in Newburyport, MA, by a father who worked in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He keenly remembers his first birding experience, which occurred when he was five years old. He was at a clambake on Plum Island with his family and met environmentalist Rachel Carson, who told him all about the birds he was marveling at on the beach. They watched as a small collection of cute birds raced after the receding water on the shoreline, leaving little tracks, and then ran away from the water as soon as it rushed back to shore.
“She pointed at these little birds running on the beach after the waves and she said, ‘Look at those! Those are sanderlings. They run down the beach after the wave and then run back so they won’t get wet,'” Studholme said. ” I never did get to Alaska, but my lower 48 life list is 582 species. There was a time when that was a pretty big deal.”
Buying The Birding Shop
For 17 years, Studholme was the manager of Williamsburg Hardware in Arlington, and after the shop closed turned his attention to nature photography, bathroom remodeling, and organizing birding trips around the country. He started working at One Good Tern part-time in 2000, and a year later owner Jenny McNair, a former employee who bought the shop from its original owner, convinced Studholme to buy it from her.
“I got to put my own mark on it and continue a legacy that was already well known in the birding community,” Studholme said. “It took a number of years to build the binocular selection inventory, and we wound up at our peak with 20 different manufacturers and about 100 models in stock. We had undoubtedly the best selection of birding optics in one place you can put your hands on at least in the Mid-Atlantic.”
Studholme has never tried for the ultimate in birding – going for a Big Year, which is a huge competition for enthusiasts who race around the world in an effort to identify as many species of wild birds in their habitats. He does, however, know all of the real-life birders portrayed in the film “The Big Year” with Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson.
“I know all of the protagonists in the movie, and prior to that the book,” he said. “you know, birding is all about the honor system. You don’t say you saw something when you didn’t, and you try to try to be really sure before you start blowing horns and mistakes are made. And most of the birders very quickly own up to it and explain why they made mistakes. It just is a good community where people help and share with each other. It’s like hunting, but you just get to write it down.”